I take a lot of calls with folks who out of necessity or passion or some other reason, have created a product for the business-to-business technology market (most of these products fall in the Human Capital Management space). I have noticed a discernible pattern in the conversations of those who wind up, shall we say, less than successful. If you have any of the attitudes below, it doesn’t mean your product is doomed but it might mean you need to pay attention to the market (or at least glance at it). When you’re (as Beyonce might say) “drunk in love” with your own product, you lose all sense of where it fits into the marketscope, how competitive you should be and even whether there is a market to sell it to.
My mom used to tell me that ideas are a dime a dozen. She’s right. I’m afraid that many in the new generation never heard that phrase. They seem to think that execution is an afterthought. Let’s discuss some common pitfalls of product pitching/brainstorming.
You built a product for yourself as a disgruntled consumer
I’ve written about this before, how nearly everyone I speak with talks about how “recruitment is broken” and they are going to fix it. But what they really mean is, the jobseeking process is uncomfortable and a huge pain in the you know what. Plus, anecdotal evidence doesn’t win arguments, jobseekers rarely pay for software and:
The Value of a man is not measured by what he does for himself to make his life easier, But, measured by what he does for others to make their lives easier.
It simply doesn’t work to run at product development this way in the B2B world unless you understand BOTH sides of the equation. The reason is this; unless you understand both sides of the recruitment process, you cannot build features for both target markets (in this case the jobseeker AND the HR Practitioner or Recruiter. This leaves you with a lopsided product that you cannot get any money for, because you didn’t take the PAYING market into account when you made it. This is why buyer personas are a thing. (The buyer should always have money in their pocket, also known as “budget”.)*
You envision a product that already exists
Oh man, I have heard pitches for lots of video interviewing products, ATS that actually show you a timeline of how quickly the recruiting team works or a job board that automatically adds social media updates to any new job update. They all sound great right? And also have existed since 2007 at least. I have no idea why pitching a B2B product that is 7 years old is okay…it’d be like someone pitching Spanx or the iPod in the consumer market! Worse is when the idea already happened and was a disaster, AKA anything in the jobseeking marketplace involving “bounties”, it’s not sustainable and brings inconsistent revenue and engenders real disgust within the industry. This is why market research exists.
You underestimate the amount of time people have to pay attention to you
These folks have done some semblance of research, they’ve built buzz and created something that is actually valuable and different. Or maybe it’s an established company breaking into a new market. Either way, the user experience and buying process is so convoluted that it’s clear they don’t know their buyer or their influencer at all. Even with the proliferation of SaaS pricing models, there is still inherent risk with HR Technology. The influencer is not the one writing the check but they are the one who will get yelled at or even written up if they spend time, money and resources training on a product that takes forever to implement and then doesn’t work. The buyer (who is sometimes the same person), has their own demons to wrestle with, namely that buying technology is rarely even 5% of their total job. This is what user experience and interface is for. If your product makes peoples’ lives harder, you are going to lose money.
You built your product in someone else’s backyard
Funny stuff coming from the lady publishing IP on LinkedIn right? But really, the last, sad gasp of breath of Branchout should have taught all of us something. BranchOut used Facebook to ride the wave of popularity and virality. Good on them, but they waited too long to have a product of their own and ended up wasting a lot of money and time on a Yammer wannabe that lost money. A lot of it. It also pissed off recruiters and jobseekers and sent a wave of copycats through the space that frankly, never went anywhere. Mistakes happen, but they’ll happen a lot less if you build on a platform that isn’t proprietary. The same thing happened with RecruitingBlogs.com to a smaller degree when it was initially built on Ning. over the years and through different owners, the issue has been addressed but was a constant thorn in the side of community management because the network was been at the mercy of slower development or flat out bugs without fixes. This is what strategic thinking is for. When you are tempted to build (or buy) a product that is created on a proprietary platform that is prone to changing its terms of service as often as a teenager, ask yourself if the owners could build it faster, better and for cheaper. If the answer is yes, then they will and you’ll be SOL.
What harbingers of product development have you seen? We’re all tech consumers in one way or another, so what tools have you seen come and go? Was it obvious by the stance of the owners or investors? Thoughts in the comments!
*If you do the inverse of this and only pay attention to the HR buyer, it is still lopsided but to a lesser degree. Because in this case you are catering to the person with the checkbook, you will still have a stinky product but people might buy it because it makes their lives easier within the enterprise. That being said, do you really want to do that?
Photo Credit: Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images